Let’s take a break this week from going through the Siddur, to daven a short modern prayer – or rather, a modern Israeli version of a late medieval prayer.
מודה אני, Modeh Ani [“I thank You”] is a familiar early morning phrase, taught to children to say upon waking, in gratitude for God restoring the soul to the body. Its roots lie in Lamentations 3.23 [“They are renewed each morning, abundant is Your faithfulness, רבה אמונתך”] and in Midrashim that imagine that nightly sleep is like 1/60 of death, as God collects the human soul and restores it at dawn. As a prayer, Modeh Ani is a comparatively young text, first appearing in the Seder HaYom of R. Moshe b. Machir [d. 1609], who participated in the 16th century mystical revival in Safed.
Fast forward to the late 20th century, and a legendary figure of Israeli culture, Meir Ariel [1942-1999], who with his folk music, his ragged personality, charisma, good looks and his fascination with religion, can legitimately be described as “Dylanesque.” [He even made a wonderful Hebrew version of “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” or טוק טוק טוק על דלתי מרום]. Ariel was a kibbutz child, with all the hostility to religion that came with that in the early days of the state. But in his soul he longed for God and spirituality. Far too personally unconventional to fit into Orthodox rubrics, he nevertheless found his own idiosyncratic ways to study Torah, pray, and keep commandments. You can read about this in Yossi Klein HaLevi’s Like Dreamers, which recounts the lives of Ariel and a handful of illustrious others, with whom he fought in the Six Day War.
Ariel wrote a wonderful modern riff on Modeh Ani, which you can watch here. Below you’ll find the words in Hebrew and my rough translation, for which I claim no literary merit. Feel free to suggest emendations. Often I sing this song to myself as I walk toward morning prayers at Ansche Chesed. As our friend Bena Medjuk-Bruckner said, “after that, you can feel like you’ve already davened.” Here it is:
על כל החסד והאמת
והטובה והרעה והטובה
שעשית עמדי ועם ביתי
ועם קרובי וידידי
ועם בני עמי ועם ארצי,
ועם כל העולם והאדם
בלאט, חרש חרש
אט אט, טופפות
עתידות עתידות לקראתנו,
ואת מחייכת אלי מתוך השינה.
יהיה לנו טוב, טוב מטוב, טוב מאוד
זה מתחיל כבר בבוקר בבוקר
ואת צוחקת אלי
Present before You, I thank You,
For all the kindness and the faithfulness
All the good, and the bad, and the good,
You have done for me and my family
And for my relatives, and for my friends,
For my nation and my land
For all the world and for humanity,
which You created.
Slowly, ever so slowly,
The future tiptoes towards us
And sleepily you smile at me
It will be good for us,
So good, better than good,
It’s already beginning, each and every morning.
And sleepily you laugh at me